Vertiginous view of Chirk Aqueduct - oil painting by Rob Pointon via robpointon.co.uk

Vertiginous view of Chirk Aqueduct – oil painting by Rob Pointon via robpointon.co.uk

The aqueduct and railway viaduct at Chirk cross over the River Ceiriog as it makes its way towards the Dee, and mark the gateway to the valley. A lot of people stop and walk across the aqueduct and marvel at the view, but few realise that the aqueduct is kind of a “hub” for a number of short circular walks.

The Reluctant Walker and I have done several of these loops over the past few weekends, taking advantage of the unexpected spells of sunshine in amongst the rain, hail and snow. There are three really nice loops around the aqueduct, each giving you a slightly different picture of the canal, the railway and the landscape and sights on either side of the Ceiriog.

All these walks can be found on OS Explorer 240: Oswestry/Croesoswallt

1. Chirk Bank – Aqueduct – Pontfaen – The Bridge (about 2 miles)

Park at the canal-side carpark at Chirk Bank and walk towards Chirk, over the aqueduct, and then up to the roundabout and look-out above the tunnel that leads towards Chirk railway station. From here walk down the hill, on the pavement alongside the B4500, and then turn left into the field below the aqueduct at the newly-repaired Pontfaen Bridge. The footpath from here follows the line of the Ceiriog, and you walk back underneath the aqueduct, which gives you a fantastic view of the massive stone piers overhead. The footpath leads to a small gate at the far end of the field, up onto the Chirk-Gledrid road near The Bridge pub (known locally as “The Trap”). From here, a short hill leads past the pub and up the canal embankment to the carpark.

2. Chirk Bank – The Poacher’s Pocket – Oaklands Road (about 1 mile)

There’s another, slightly shorter walk from the Chirk Bank carpark that’s a good loop on fairly flat ground. Start from the carpark but head in the opposite direction – crossing over the road at Chirk Bank and following the towpath towards The Poacher’s Pocket pub. Leave the towpath here and walk over the canal bridge – this is Oaklands Road. Follow this lane back into the village of Chirk Bank. When you reach the Weston Rhyn road, turn right, and the road will take you over the canal bridge and back to the car park.

3. Chirk Bank – Pontfaen – Chirk Castle Gates – Aqueduct (about 2 1/2 miles)

From Chirk Bank canalside carpark, walk away from the canal towards Weston Rhyn. About 100 yards from the canal bridge, there’s a gate and a footpath leading right. The path passes between the houses and over the field beyond into the small line of trees above the canal. To your left is Oaklands Hall, and there’s the remains of a Norman motte and bailey here in the field. From here the footpath crosses the railway trackStop and look both ways, obviously, but also take a moment to appreciate the view down the railway line and out over the viaduct. On the other side of the track, follow the path as it winds down through the woods and along the lane to Pontfaen Bridge. Cross the bridge and turn right, along the B4500 as it heads towards Chirk. About half-way up the hill, cross the B-road and take the footpath up through the woods. The track leads past Lady Margaret caravan park, and joins the road by the spectacular Chirk Castle Gates. Turn right at the gates, and head down to the train station. If you have a torch with you (or have been eating your carrots!), you can cross the road before the railway station and head back to the aqueduct via the long canal tunnel. If you left your torch at home, cross the bridge over the railway track and turn right at the mini-roundabout. The road leads back to the look-out over the aqueduct (and from here, you can nip over to the new Caffi Wylfa if you’re in need of reviving with a cup of tea and some excellent cake). Walk down to the towpath and follow it over the aqueduct and back up to the carpark at Chirk Bank.

The aqueduct and viaduct at Chirk are not just gateways to the Ceiriog Valley, they’re also gateways to the Pontcysyllte World Heritage Site. From Chirk, the World Heritage Site extends all the way along the towpath and canal through Trevor Basin and Llangollen to the Horseshoe Falls. It’s a stunning scenic and historic site, worth exploring if you’re spending any time in the area – and these short loops are a good way to get started!

Nant Bridge, Bersham - at the edge of Nant Mill Woods, along the Clywedog Trail.

Nant Bridge, Bersham – at the edge of Nant Mill Woods, along the Clywedog Trail.

On the outskirts of Wrexham as you head towards Oswestry, the bypass crosses over the River Clywedog. Just below that crossing are the remains of Bersham Ironworks. The ironworks stand at the edge of a long strip of woodland that runs alongside the river, and also stand on the route of the Clywedog Trail, a series of linked footpaths that run from Erddig Country House to Minera Lead Mines.

As it was one of our usual rain-soaked days, and as we were all somewhat pressed for time, we didn’t do the full nine-mile round trip, but just a short three mile loop. We parked next to the attractive weir at Caeau Bridge, opposite St. Mary’s Church. From there (the carpark was locked, but there was ample room in the layby entrance) we followed the riverside path through Plas Power Woods up to Nant Bridge, and then back down the road in the reverse direction. It wasn’t a very long walk, the woods were veiled in rain and mist, and much of the path was muddy underfoot – but it was still a nice enough, and would be extremely pretty in the spring and summer. It was obviously very popular with local walkers (and dogs), which was good to see. Both Plas Power Woods and Nant Mill Wood (beyond Nant Mill Bridge) are maintained by the Woodlands Trust, which clearly host  a number of educational and school activities in the forest.

Bersham Ironworks marks the beginning of a series of industrial sites along the Clywedog River as it heads northwest up towards Llandegla. Beyond Nant Bridge, footpaths take you on towards the Minera Lead Mines and the Minera Limeworks. Beyond the quarries at the edge of the limeworks, paths wind their way towards Llandegla to the northwest, or back down south towards the Offa’s Dyke Path and the footpaths around Dinas Bran (walks which we covered in the first volume of our Walk Book). Later in the year, with better weather, we might well come back to the Clywedog Trail again, extending it into a longer walk to Minera and beyond.

Bersham: Plas Power Woods and Nant Mill Wood

3 miles

Good for dog-walking

Coed Cochion woods.

Coed Cochion woods.

I’ve been working on the second edition of the Hand Walk Book, updating the maps and expanding a few of the local walks. I wanted to have a few more illustrations from around Llanarmon D.C. in amongst the new pages, so I thought I might take advantage of the break in the weather and get out and do some sketching. I’ve been out with the Inside Out Art Group for sketching walks through the Ceiriog valley before. In fact, we sketched and walked from Ysgubor Draw by Ty Coch down to Hendre Quarry back in September.

Despite a bit of a chill in the air, at least it wasn’t raining. I did some sketching in the ground of St. Garmon’s, drawing both the church itself and the decorative circular “roses” carved into the slate headstones and tombs. I’ve always been interested in these circular, compass-drawn motifs – I used to see their American cousins on the side of barns in the States when I was a kid. From there, I walked up the hill to Ysgubor Draw, the picturesque barn on the hill above the village. From here, the footpath heads off past Tyn y Fedw along the line of the river towards Tregeiriog and Hendre Quarry – a walk Martin and I have done many times before, and a great walk for sketchers and photographers.

But I particularly wanted to go up and draw the old Glyn Valley Tramway wagon at Penybryn, so I walked across the river and up Heartbreak Hill to the farm. The old wagon’s in a fairly dilapidated state, but it’s one of the few that survive up here now. There used to be so many left over after the closure of the tramway. But it’s been almost a hundred years now since the tramway was closed, and time is wiping away even these last remnants. There was no shoot in place up the river, so I took the opportunity to finish my sketching day by walking down from Penybryn through the woods of Coed Cochion and over the river at Dolwen.

There are earthworks alongside the river at Dolwen, which I’m assuming are leets connected to eighteenth-century fulling mills. I know about the mills at Pandy and Castle Mills (hence the names) and the ones in Glyn Ceiriog that operated up into the twentieth century. But mills higher up the Ceiriog I don’t know a great deal about. Were there mills at Dolwen?

Jane Jones’ book doesn’t mention anything about them, neither does John Milner’s. Neville Hurdsman, in A History of the Parish of Chirk says: “As water mills proliferated in the 17th and 18th centuries, more mills were established on both sides of the Ceiriog. […] By the mid 18th century the activities of the fullers and dyers of Chirk had ended as the industry developed further up the valley…” (p. 163). Glyn Ceiriog, of course, became a centre for flannel production during the late-nineteenth century; does “further up the valley” perhaps indicate that some of that production was also carried out at sites like Dolwen? Or, if there are no records of fulling mills in the upper reaches of the Ceiriog, might these be the remains of agricultural corn mills? Or a flax mill like the one in the centre of Llanarmon?

Does anyone else know about mills further up the Ceiriog, either at Dolwen or Tuhwntir Afon?

Anyway, musings on mills along the Ceiriog aside, I wound my way home back along the road to Llanarmon, stopping only briefly to draw some sketches of the silver birches at the edge of the Fedw Sarfle. It was an excellent walk – a relief to be outside and not soaked to the skin for once!

St. Garmons – Ysgubor Draw – Penybryn – Dolwen

c. 3 ¾ miles

Frost up by Fynnon y Brenin.

Frost up by Fynnon y Brenin.

It’s been a long while since Martin and I were last out on a proper walk. Illness, holidays, weather and general lack of space on our respective calendars has meant that walks have been a bit thin on the ground over the past few months. To be honest, the weather has put a real downer on planning and enthusiasm. I don’t mind walking in the rain – even in the worst of it – but there’s nothing much to be gained in going up onto the moors when the mist is so thick and the clouds so low that you can’t appreciate the views. So while we have been out, we’ve tended to stick to routes that we know well and which have shielded us from the worst of the rain and wind.

But this past week we managed to catch the very best of the winter weather we’ve had these past few weeks: those few days of cold that coated all the hills around here with a thick blanket of hoar frost. We went out from The Hand at about eleven in the morning, intending to do a relatively short walk up Heartbreak Hill, past Pen-y-Bryn, up onto the moors and then down past Hafod Adams to the B-road and back to The Hand along the river. We’ve done that a couple times this past autumn – it’s our “default” walk: not too long, but with a good hill at either end and the chance to get away from the village and get up into the emptiness of the moors.

Having climbed up to the moors, however, the weather was so good that we decided not to drop down via Hafod Adams, but instead head the other way – along the ridge past Fynnon y Brenin and the edge of the Ceiriog Forest to the waterfalls up past Swch Cae Rhiw. The sun was out in force, and it was actually pretty warm as we headed off the main path and out over the heather. But in the shadows of Bryn Du, the hoar frost was still thick underfoot, veiling the moors around us in a thick, sparkling shroud of ice. Indeed, some of it was thick enough to disguise muddy puddles as clean drifts, booby-trapping parts of the route! We walked down the shaded side of the hills overlooking the Nantyr Estate (up for sale, should you be interested), and through the bottom part of the Ceiriog Forest along Bwlch y Dolydd – now felled in a wide sweep from the road out towards the stone sheepfold and memorial.

From there, it was back up into the sunshine along the line of the Nant Ysgallog as it tumbles in the series of falls known as the “Ceiriog Waterfalls”, down towards the junction with the Ceiriog River and back towards Llanarmon, home and the welcome roar of the coal fire in the bar. We hadn’t planned to walk quite so far (eight miles, almost exactly), but it felt good to be back out on the hills again. I can’t remember which walk this is in our current edition of Walks From the Hand, as I’ve lent my last copy to a friend.

And speaking of the walk book brings me to our latest piece of news, which is that Martin and I have definitely agreed that we will do a second volume this year, featuring more of our favourite walks and drives from The Hand. We’ve now finished the revisions to our current volume – now Walks From the Hand, Vol. I – and that’ll be printed up in two editions this year: the familiar spiral-bound, acetate-fronted edition suitable for taking out and about, and a slightly smarter-looking, souvenir edition – possibly in hardback. We’ll work on Volume II throughout this year and hopefully have it ready for Christmas 2013. Many thanks to everyone who bought copies of our first volume over the past two years – we’ve sold out two print-runs so far – and thanks also for the very useful comments and suggestions you’ve emailed in. Hopefully Volume II will be as much fun both for us to compile and for you to enjoy.

 

Afternoon Tea at the Fron Tea Rooms.

The Reluctant Walker and I were out again today – this time a bit closer to home. It was one of those rare autumn days – brilliant sunshine but still crisp and slightly cool. We drove up to Chirk and down along the A5 to the junction with the B5560 – the first left-hand road off the A5 as you head towards Llangollen, heading towards Newbridge. About 500 yards from the junction, the road bends and crosses over the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. Martin and I have done long, long walks along the towpath from Chirk many times, but shorter stretches make lovely walks in their own right.

So the Reluctant Walker and I parked just off the B-road, in a layby along the towpath. The B-road crosses over the bridge here – bridge number 27W. Under the bridge, the towpath heads towards Chirk, but we headed in the other direction – towards Froncysyllte. The canal was busy – narrow boats, cruisers and even a trio of kayaks. Overhead, a biplane buzzed over the borderlands, heading towards Snowdonia. The path, too, was fairly busy – walkers and cyclists, families and dog-walkers taking advantage of the beautiful afternoon sunshine.

This is a lovely corner of the Llangollen canal, and we took our time as we headed towards Froncysyllte. We passed through Tan-y-Cut woods, and across the line of Offa’s Dyke as it crosses the canal. As we neared Fron itself, we passed by the remains of the old Froncysyllte limekilns and the wharfs and railway lines that linked the canal to the quarries above the A5.

At the Fron wharf, the Reluctant Walker and I paused on the wooden pedestrian over-bridge to watch the narrow-boats raising and lowering the car-bridge over the canal – and then crossed over the canal and made our way to the Fron House Tea Rooms just above the canal. From the sun-dappled garden, we sat and watched the boats pass back and forth along the canal, with a full pot of tea and a slice each of some of the best cake we’d ever tasted – a slice of coconut and lime cake for the Reluctant Walker, and a slice of heavenly treacle tart (baked – unless I’m much mistaken – with a dollop of marmalade in the mixture and served with a thick spoonful of whipped cream) for myself. With their canal-side view and some of the best cakes you’re likely to find in the borderlands, the Fron House Tea Rooms are a real gem, and a great place to sit and watch the world go by.

Full of cake and tea, the Reluctant Walker and I retraced our steps back to the car and back home. Now we ambled – positively dawdled – along the towpath. We took photographs, admired the views over the Dee Valley, stopped to watch the ducks and the boats, nosed under the bridges and around the old railway tracks, taking the best part of an hour to get from Bridge 27W to the Fron Tea Rooms. But on the way back, we walked properly (though nowhere near as fast as Martin and I go), and it took us twenty minutes.

The Reluctant Walker liked the idea of a stroll along the towpath because it was flat – and being flat, these towpaths are also perfect for wheelchairs and walkers. And of course, if you’re in the mood for a slightly longer ramble, you can continue along the canal, over the Aqueduct – now a World Heritage Site – towards Trevor, and eventually towards Llangollen.

For the Reluctant Walker and I, this short stretch of the legs was enough. Back off home to mow the field and set up the new chicken shed. But we’ll be back to this corner of the Shropshire Union Canal before too long – if only for the at the Fron House Tea Room!

 

 

Length: Bridge 27W to Fron Wharf: 1 mile ; Fron Wharf to Trevor over the aqueduct: a further 3/4 miles

Map: Explorer 255

Fron House Tea Rooms: Tea – £1.60, Cakes – from £2.00

The Shropshire plain from the edge of Candy Woods – England as seen from the edge of Wales.

Today we went on an English walk – a circuit from Oswestry Racecourse down the hill towards the ruins of Castell Brogyntyn and back up again to the old racecourse. The walk makes an interesting contrast with the mountainous routes we’re more used to. 

Once again, we were lucky enough to hit a day of bright sunshine – warm, even hot, too. From the carpark at the edge of the racecourse we followed the path off the southern edge of the course and through the bottom of Candy Wood, under the shadow of the stone-and-earth embankment of Offa’s Dyke. The old plantation here now obscures the line of the dyke in parts, but the path leaves the shadow of the trees at the sheep walk, heading off east past an enormous old beech into the open fields.

From here, you can appreciate the difference between the Welsh walks we do and the English ones. Here, we look out over the broad sweep of the Shropshire plains – all wide, clear fields and rolling hills, with the blue arc of the sky unconfined by slate and granite peaks. It’s the kind of countryside that allows you to get a feel for the whole context of a walk – something that’s often not as easy to do, even in the Berwyns.

The path through the fields lead us past the remains of the fishponds and walled garden of Llanforda Hall below Llanforda Wood. A quick shelter in the copse beyond the walled garden and we were back out into the fields, joining Back Racecourse Lane and heading up the road past the reservoir below Oerley Hall. The house by the reservoir has a beautiful view out over the water, and once again, a fantastic panorama over the Shropshire plains.

It’s been about 2 1/2 miles so far, and Back Racecourse Lane leads back up to the racecourse – about another three-quarters of a mile or so. But we extended our walk by another 3 miles – heading first along the lane at the top of the Back Racecourse hill towards Underhill Cottagethen down Mount Road to the lane behind Brogyntyn Park and the ruins of Castell Brogyntyn – a typically small Norman marcher motte-and-bailey castle.

Here, we lost the open vistas and were closed in by the trees of the park, winding our way up the “no motorised vehicles” lane, up the steep slope of the hill past a tall beech wood and turning into the top edge of the racecourse once more. We arrived back at the car just as the sky began to turn cloudy and spit rain: perfect timing!

Back at The Hand, we took shelter in the bar as the grey clouds opened and the rain came down in stair-rods. Sitting by the fire, watching the rain coming down, Martin and I realised something: the autumn is closing in on us. If we don’t hurry up and do Snowdon fairly soon, we’ll start losing the late afternoon light.

Sounds like we’ll have to make our plans for Snowdon in the next few weeks…

Length: 5 1/2 miles (or 3 1/4 miles if you head back to the racecourse up Back Racecourse Lane)

Time: 3 hrs ( or 2 1/4 if you head back up Back Racecourse Lane)

Map: Explorer 240

Walking and drawing – a perfect combination.

Went on a great little sketching walk with a group of artists from the Inside Out Art Group – they’re the artists who’ve been exhibiting in the Dining Room at The Hand since 2008.

From Llanarmon D.C. to Hendre Quarry is about 2 1/4 miles country walk through river-side forests, across little streams, over bridges and through cattle fields – some of the best scenery in this end of the valley.

Starting from the Tithebarn Studios, where the Tithebarn Studios Group have an exhibition this month for Helfa Gelf, we walked from the centre of the village, up the hill leading out of the village past the Church of St. Garmon, with its Bronze Age burial mound and 2,000-year old yew trees. Leaving the road, we turned down the footpath that lead past the Old Ty Coch Barn, and through the bluebell woods of Coed Fedw. From the woods, the path lead through a sun-dappled pasture to a short lane leading to the village of Tregeiriog. Over the bridge to the other side of the River Ceiriog, then turning right at the bus shelter, we followed the road up the hill, past the Old Tregeiriog Cemetery, and down towards Pontricket Farm. There we left the road, following the tiny lane with its nine-foot high hedges on either side, back over the river, and up past Farthing Farm and into the quarry.

Hendre Quarry itself is a compact heritage landscape, full of old buildings, railway archaeology and evidence of the industries that once powered the Ceiriog valley. You follow the line of the old quarry tramway track down the hill to the entrance the quarry itself. The granite quarry is a truly impressive excavation into the hillside – totally hidden from view until you get down into it. From the quarry you can walk down past the crushing mill to the old gunpowder works, past the remains of the locomotive shed and the company offices. From the quarry, the Glyn Valley Tramway took the granite down to the Great Western Railway at Chirk and the Shropshire Union Canal at Gledrid (near where the roundabout is now).

Anyway, enough history – basically, this is all to hammer home that there’s tons of stuff to draw down at Hendre: ruined buildings, fantastic cliffs in the quarry, the rolling river with its ancient bridges – anything and everything an artist could wish for. Anyone coming to The Hand who likes to draw or paint – Hendre Quarry is a great place to go both for a walk and artistic inspiration. And if you’re interested in a guided art walk – either to the Quarry or further afield – just drop us a comment here at the blog and we’ll see if we can arrange something.

Length: 4 1/2 miles (2 1/4 miles one-way)

Time: 2hrs (walking time only)

Map: Explorer 255

The Jubilee Tower (1810) – Summit of Moel Famau

At 554 metres, Moel Famau is probably the highest of the easily-walkable mountains in Wales. We’ve walked higher mountains – Cadair Berwyn at 830 metres, for example – but there’s usually no easy way to the top. Moel Famau, on the other hand, is a more complex peak, with both easy and more difficult routes to the summit. It’s also one of the more interesting mountains in Wales, with an involved and colourful history.

The name means Mountain of the Mothers in Welsh, but there’s little to indicate how the name originated. The hill is surrounded by a number of Iron Age hillforts, including the impressive Moel Arthur. In the nineteenth century, this part of North Wales was heavily industrialised to serve the lead mines around Mold, on land that was part of the extensive Grosvenor estates. Nowadays, Moel Famau is at the centre of the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty  and within a Forestry Commission Country Park. Sitting on the Offa’s Dyke path, and a stone’s throw from Loggerheads Country Park, Moel Famau is also one of the most popular walking destinations in North Wales.

We drove up to Moel Famau  via Llangollen, over the Horseshoe Pass, past Llandegla and through one of the other Llanarmons in North Wales – Llanarmon yn Lal. From the Forestry Commission carpark (£1 fee), we took one of the are paths leading up towards the summit, heading up through the conifers as the path rose steeply through the plantation. As we neared the top ridge, the conifers broke into rolling heathland of brilliant purple heather and sweet, fruiting bilberries.

We’d had the path to ourselves up through the trees, but at the ridge we found ourselves part of a veritable M6 of walkers heading to the summit! We’re so used to walking almost entirely alone through the mountains above the Ceiriog that it took us a bit by surprise. But you know what? It was actually really encouraging to see so many people climbing up such a hill. You hear so much nowadays about how we, as a nation, are a bunch of morbidly obese couch-potatoes – yet here were families, grandparents, adults, children, dogs, all clambering up the steep path to the summit. As I say: very encouraging.

The Jubilee Tower, Moel Famau – c. early 1840s

From the ridge, the well-maintained path headed in a straight line up to the summit – and its extraordinary Jubilee Tower. This now-ruined structure was originally constructed to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of King George III in 1810. The foundation stone was laid by the Second Baron Kenyon, who contributed significantly to the subscription to build the monument after the public response was less than enthusiastic. The monument had been designed by the architect Thomas Harrison of Chester – the design being a three-tiered, Egyptian-style obelisk. However, arguments between the architect and the surveyor plus lack of money meant that the monument was never completed, and part of the upper tiers collapsed in 1846. The remainder of the unsafe structure was demolished after a devastating gale in 1862, leaving the single tier that stands today. It remains a quirky folly of a monument, much-loved by local residents, who commemorated the tower’s 200th anniversary with a mountain-top parade and a light installation by artist Chris Oakley.

From the windswept remains of the Tower, we could see for miles in all directions – Liverpool’s Pier Head to the North, the very edge of the Berwyns to the South, Snowdon to the West, the broad sweep of the Shropshire plain to the East. Past the Tower, the line of the Offa’s Dyke path stretched away north towards the coast and south towards Chepstow. The weather was perfect and clear – not too sunny, not too cloudy, not a drop of rain. Just as on the Long Mynd, the view from the summit serves to remind just how much countryside there is out there to walk.

This walk up Moel Famau wasn’t all that long – another two hour, mid-day walk – but it would be nice to return for a longer visit. The Offa’s Dyke path runs like a spine through the Borderlands, and just about all our walks intersects with the course of the Dyke at some point. Oswestry Race Course, Selattyn Hill, Chirk Castle, Dinas Bran – we’ve walked stretches of the Dyke in fragments. Maybe one day we should walk a much longer stretch? Oswestry Race Course to Moel Famau is about 25 miles or so. With all the ups and downs, not something one could do in a day – but over two days? A weekend?

Perhaps appropriately, I’ll end this post on a final, quirky note. Moel Famau is actually a hill, not a mountain. Technically, a mountain needs to be 2000′ – and Moel Famau is only 1818′. But a correspondant to the moelfamau.co.uk site pointed out that if you get 91 people to stand at the summit, you have the extra 182 feet needed to make it a mountain…

I know, I know… >groan<

 

Length: c. 4 1/2 miles
Time: c. 2hrs

Map: Explorer 265 (Clwydian Range)

Walk Book 2.0 – even more walks through the Ceiriog Valley.

I’ve been very remiss over the past few months, and haven’t kept up with writing up our recent walks. So I’ve now put up several backdated posts covering our walks this spring and summer (Pontfadog Loop, Ann Griffiths Walk (i), The Reluctant Walker).

But what I have been keeping on top of is work on the second edition of our walk book – Walks From the Hand 2.0, if you will! What we’re going to do is expand the current edition with a few more local and regional walks, as well as put material into a second volume – a Book II – which will cover walks further afield. Some of these Volume II walks will also be longer (at least a couple of full-day walks), seasonal (a couple of walks that are great when the valley’s covered in fresh winter snow) and themed (a Ceiriog Valley industrial heritage walk, an art walk). If we can get the help of some additional local contributors, it would be nice to also include in this second volume a few favourite local cycle and horse-riding routes.

All being well, it would be nice to see the revised Walk Book out by Christmas – with a Volume II sometime in the New Year. We’ll keep you posted!

Gaynor points the way back home – about twenty miles in that direction!

We don’t often venture out of North Wales for our walks – occasional forays over Offa’s Dyke into the Shropshire side of the Borderlands is about it. And yet, there are hundreds of miles of fantastic Shropshire walks within a short drive of The Hand. The North Shropshire Way, for instance, has recently been waymarked to join up with the South Shropshire Way, and Oswestry has – just this spring – signed up as a Walkers are Welcome town.

So we decided to venture a little further afield this week – to The Long Mynd, near Church Stretton and Craven Arms, south of Shrewsbury in Shropshire. It’s about an hour’s drive away through beautiful rolling countryside – down the Montgomery canal from Oswestry towards Welshpool and then south east across farmland towards the dramatic rise of the long escarpment of the Long Mynd and the headwaters of the River Onny. I’ve always liked this part of Shropshire – it’s so different from home. With its open fields and soft hedgerows, it feels properly “English”. Caught between the hard edge of the Berwyns and the twin spines of the Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge, it also feels very much like a mountain pass, and it’s history is visible everywhere.

There are Iron Age celtic hillforts here, remains of the Cornovii who occupied much of Shropshire, Cheshire, Powys and Staffordshire. Under the Romans there was the large military and civilian settlement at Wroxeter, near Shrewsbury, and this part of Shropshire is criss-crossed by Roman roads leading towards what was one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. After the departure of the Romans, it became part of the Welsh Kingdom of Powys, and then, in the eighth century, it was taken by King Offa and absorbed into the Kingdom of Mercia – and Offa built several long dykes down the borderlands to demarcate and protect it from Wales. After the Norman Conquest, the region was controlled by large castles at Ludlow and Shrewsbury, and was settled with abbeys and many newly-organised villages. During the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, the region found itself on the front-line of Stephen’s campaigns against David of Scotland in 1138, in the middle of “The Anarchy” of 1135-1153, and finally the four-way power-split of England between Stephen, Matilda, Ranulf of Chester and the Welsh Princes; South and Mid-Shropshire are pockmarked by battlefields and memorials to this war of attrition. 

During the Middle Ages, the borderlands were the site of civil strife – the constant battles between the English and the Welsh; perhaps the unstable nature of the region also attracted Henry Percy – “Hotspur” – to Shrewsbury, where he was ultimately defeated by Henry IV. Finally, during the English Civil War, the county was largely a base of Royalist support, and suffered as a result in the aftermath of Charles I’s defeat and execution.Various small town churches hold memorials to families who fought under the royalist banner at the Battle and Seige of Oswestry, the Seige of Bridgenorth, or the battles at Ludlow, Stokesay, and Shrewsbury. Family names such as Benbow, Price, Mytton and Myddleton all have ancestral connections to commanders and generals who fought in the Civil War, commemorated locally in the names of pubs and inns.

This part of Shropshire is also famously one of the engines of the Industrial Revolution. Coalbrookdale, in the Ironbridge Gorge, was where Abraham Derby first smelted iron ore with easily-mined “cooking coal” – although coal had been mined to smelt iron ore in the region around Wenlock Edge since the 1570s. The hill-edges around Wenlock Edge and the Long Mynd bear the industrial scars of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mining, quarrying and milling, as well as the lines of the railways built to service them and the communities they supported. In the Second World War, this part of Shropshire played host to various Prisoner of War and training camps, as well as specialised industrial and storage facilities – such as the ordnance depot and railway at Ditton Priors.

All this rich tapestry of local and national history is visible as one walks through the region, interwoven into the landscape. In 1958, the area was designated the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and since then has become a lure for tourism and leisure in all its forms. A huge number of footpaths, cycle routes and bridleways cross the area – the Jack Mytton Way and the southern part of the Shropshire Way being the most notable. As you walk, cycle or ride across the Long Mynd – as we did – or Wenlock Edge, you can see hillforts, dykes, Roman roads, Norman motte-and-baileys, mediaeval villages, disused railway lines, mills and quarries. If walking is one of the best ways of getting out into the countryside, it’s also one of the best ways of getting out in history.

As our outing today was only a taster, we drove down the A489 towards Craven Arms, then turned up at the southern tip of the Long Mynd and climbed to the top of the ridge by car, parking near the landing strips of the Midland Gliding Club on the Knolls near Minton Hill. From there we walked through the sunshine along the Portway – an ancient Neolithic trackway that is now part of the Shropshire Way and the Jack Mytton Way – about four miles to the outlook at Pole Bank and back again. The air was full of gliders overhead, there were cyclists, runners and walkers on the path; there were families parked up near the road, laying out picnics and flying kites; there were buzzards and smaller birds of prey up on the thermals, and green hairstreak butterflies in the whinberries and the heather.

From that vantage point we looked out over the valley of the River Onny, past the Stiperstones and west towards the Berwyns. With the help of the bronze topographic guide, we picked out as many of the landscape features as we could – Rodney’s Pillar, Brown Clee, Cadair Berwyn; we could, literally, see for miles up there. We walked back to the car and then drove along the ridge and down Carding Mill valley, past the waterfall at Lightspout hollow, the impressive hillfort  of Bodbury Ring and the carding mill itself. We stopped for an excellent lunch at The Ragleth Arms in Little Stretton before – regretfully – turning back home again.

This is a fantastic part of the country – stuffed full of wildlife, history and great scenery. Like Wales, it is a place of broad brush-strokes and little nooks. For every hill-top outlook there is an undiscovered corner of a narrow bach; for every wheeling bird of prey there is a flight of rare butterflies; for every battlefield there is the quiet village cross. We left determined to return – to explore the deserted mediaeval villages and the long bachs of the Mynd, the woods and fields of the Dales, and the long curves of the rivers that bind them all together.

We left determined to return before too long to this familiar yet foreign companion country to our own North Wales.

 

“Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows
What are those blue remembered hills
What spires, what farms are those?”

A.E. Houseman, “A Shropshire Lad”

Map: Explorer 217 – The Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge

Midland Gliding Club – Pole Bank loop:

Length: c. 4 miles
Time: c. 2hrs